Nami Kitsune Hatfield draws our attention to the importance of the accessibility of the Webcomic medium in that it allows for authentic representation of underrepresented groups in American society such as the transgender community. Hatfield speaks to the personal burden of not being able to see oneself and or your identity represented; “Personally speaking, growing up as a transgender woman I found little support or information within library settings. This lack of representation or information regarding my identity led to major struggles in my life, because for a long time I felt like I was alone in my identity and in the world” (58).
Since media platforms help to structure how a culture views specific identities and in what context, these portrayals in the media must be representative, and non-confining. Many people may relate to characters they see portrayed in the media based on identity. This relation may be comforting in that people feel understood and represented, however these depictions may also portray how one with a specific identity is supposed to perform their identity. This classic dilemma has been explored in other aspects of this class, but I want to focus on the transgender community here.
The fact that Hatfield feels underrepresented in regard to her transgender identity is a huge issue because it signifies the lack of inclusion that has been happening within the media. Meaning, in part, that many people lack the knowledge necessary needed to be fully aware of this identity thus leading to miscommunication about this identity. Hatfield states in regard to libraries and archives, “fail to take into account or equitably represent transgender issues and identities. In fact, the transgender population, which makes up less than one percent of the United States population,1 is still poorly understood.” (57) Inclusion is very important to me personally and I feel as though it isa civic duty to make sure that all identities are represented. The webcomic platform creates space to do so in that individual experiences are able to come to the surface and are paid attention to. Hatfield emphasizes this idea, “Within participatory culture, fans often act as contributors and feel as though their contributions make a difference to the products being produced.” (61) Through sharing experiences, and on the contrary paying attention to these stories, there is more space for “education and humanizing of the transgender community” (60).
Here is a comic I liked by Alyssa! Great commentary on the physicality of bodies and our perception of our own bodies.
Audre Lorde explains and explores the idea of embracing erotism for mankind, but more specifically for women. She immediately breaks down the public perception of what the term “erotic” means. For example, she speaks to the fact that we mainly access eroticism as limited to the bedroom and to sex as one way in which the hierarchy of power within our culture is supported and enforced. Thus, eroticism as a possession belonging to the bedroom extremely limits the way in which an individual woman is able to feel about, control, and explore her own body. Lorde emphasizes the constant denial of the erotic as a source of power; “We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within Western society” (88). The most immediate and relevant example of this devaluing is in the roots of the teaching of many religions, mainly those pertaining to Christianity. The fact that a lot of “American culture” has adopted aspects from religion further allows this view of eroticism to become a wide-spread cultural norm. And this negative connotation for the idea of eroticism can still be viewed in various ways such as the continuation of the word “slut” used in a demeaning manner or the fact that female masturbation is still viewed as a somewhat taboo topic, or the idea of sex for women can be compared to the “way ants maintain colonies of aphids to provide a life-giving substance for their masters” (88). Lorde also understands religion to be a motivating factor of this oppression in stating; “such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife” (89).
However, Lorde want women to understand that the term “erotic” needs to be reclaimed. It is not eroticism that is demeaning, but rather pornography because it ignores feeling. This emphasis on feeling is how Lorde re-examines eroticism. It is not limited to sexuality, but as a word of empowerment in a more holistic sense. For example, Lorde explains, “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference” (89). Thus she illustrates the erotic in a whole new light, than what we have been taught to interpret idea as. She demonstrates that it is a power that allows one to understand satisfaction and the true meaning of feeling. Further this empowerment can be found with the help of another or by oneself; “That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling” (89). Thus we must allow ourselves to live fully and utilize the feeling that accompanies eroticism. We must embrace this new definition of erotism and find the power that it provides for the individual. Lorde fully delineates how, “As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different” (89). By reclaiming, embracing, and understanding eroticism through a new lens, we can start to do so.
Snoopy Jenkins acknowledges how the dominant, racial and patriarchal ideals of Western culture have been implemented in comics books and more specifically, the tales of American Superheros. For example, Jenkins states, “In our world, the most famous, most powerful, most influential superhero ever devised is a straight White man… The superhero concept is a racial construct…” The fact that a extreme lack of representation has existed for such a long period of time shows in fact that it is the familiarity of superheros that readers long for rather than a newer, more diverse comic. Jenkins also addresses this idea; “Diversity does not sell superhero comics- nostalgia does, and this nostalgia hearkens back to postwar America, with its effervescent, bubbly nationalism, cleanly delineated racial hierarchies and obvious, unquestioned gender roles.” This idea of nostalgia interests me because it indirectly shows how values of white elitism have been the dominating force of American culture since its foundation.
We, as a human race, are attracted to simplicity. And in this sense, simplicity reflects nostalgia for White, American males who subconsciously benefit from institutionalized systems of inequality. Jenkins states, “everyone drawn and colored and inked and lettered in panel conducts themselves in accordance or in conflict with mainstream, middle-class White American social ethics. The ‘right thing’… [is] a moral good defined in panel by rural Midwestern Protestants…” Further, the idea of ‘the right thing’ that these superheros usually perform are depicted by these systems of inequality and are therefore very bias in nature. The ‘right thing’ is never culturally diverse and constantly instills the public with the assumption that western culture is the only ‘moral’ culture.
There is no room for diversity, racially, culturally, or sexuality wise due to the fact that most white, male superheros exist as a product of wartime America. They gain their power from the military and dominate war related tasks. Jenkin illustrates this idea, “superheros use violence to solve problems, foreign and domestic… [they] show unsophisticated, immature White males who wrest manhood from their military experience, who telegraph masculinity by glorifying war.” Thus, there is no room for diversity of the character due to the specificity of what people expect and the idea that people want to read nostalgic comics. People keep existing in this “a world where humanity is White and human variation is never heroic.” Addionally, “Every Wednesday, superheros seduce the innocent with disturbing commentaries on justifiable public conflict, acceptable casualty rates, and unspoken racial hierarchies. Superheros are White male power fantasy distilled to narcotic purity…”
Jeffrey Cohen highlights the monster as a complex aspect of both societal, cultural, and individual identity. He expresses the idea that, “Monsters are our children…they ask us why we have created them” (20). As we can therefore view the monster as a product of our own fears, influenced and possibly created by the environment we live in, the monster very much resembles our inner-thoughts and is a metaphorical representation of mental processes.
Cohen demonstrates that we can “[read] cultures from the monsters they engender” (3). The idea that our deepest fears are usually socially shared arises as Cohen states, “the monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and projection, the monster exists only to be read…” (4). As gender and race exist as social constructions, so does the monster and the body of the monster. It reflects the boundaries of a culture and therefore reflects the our own thoughts of what is socially acceptable or not. For example, “the monster prevents mobility…to step outside of this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself” (12). Cohen illustrates the monster as our own psychological fear about being rejected from society and how stepping outside of social/ cultural norms is looked down upon. The monster is often portrayed as wild, out of control, dangerous; “[monsters] declare that curiosity is more often punished than rewarded, that one is better off safely maintained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad…”(12). Therefore by illustrating monsters as the extremist products of social constructs and by portraying them often in an evil manner, we are reminded of the boundaries that our society or culture values.
In addition, Cohen points out that the monster somewhat gains power from its non-conformative form; “the monster’s body is both corporal and incorporeal; its threat is its propensity to shift” (5). It is not concrete in its form, parallel to our own fears, and may arise at any time. Like psychological fears, disorders, memories, “The monster notoriously appears at times of crisis…” (6). Like the deer women in the comic that we read in class, she symbolizes the trauma of sexual assault and appears in times when women experience it. The monster has the ability to disappear and reappear which is out of a human’s control, much like mental processes. Cohen shows the parallel of this concept in the monster,”And so the monster is dangerous, a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (6).
Lastly, the monster shows our inter-most desires that we cannot publicly express. Cohen states, “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and enforce. The monster also attracts. The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies…” (17). The monster embodies these desires;”Through the body of the monster fantasies of aggression and domination and inversion are allowed …” (17). When evaluating the monster one must wonder, does the monster represent our own libido (referring to Freud)?
Throughout the reading, Chute focuses on how the comic style has allowed a platform for depicting trauma and how this trauma is portrayed by women. She accentuates how important the depiction of a women in a traumatic situation is and she highlights her as an onlooker and curator, and importantly not only as a victim. Within Fun Home, Bechdel does not hide any truths about trauma and does not dance around the subject. She addresses it as her memory prevails and more importantly fully displays her emotional truths. Through this honesty and representation, Bechdel allows for the trauma she has experienced to become real to her audience and claims authority for the art form. Chute also states that “while a few decades ago comics by women about their lives had to be published underground, today they are taking over the conversation about literature and the self.” This statement clearly demonstrates the ways in which women’s issues have been reserved, pushed back, concealed because they were somehow not ‘appropriate’ for a wider audience. However we must view the fact that women comic authors were getting in trouble for their work about women as a systematic problem. Talking about the body, sex, feminism, etc. should not be censored material just because it is truthful or causes discomfort. I do believe that it is somewhat modern artist’s responsibility to re-introduce the body in a way that is not sexual to an audience. The body needs to be normalized and not only viewed as an object of desire as it has been repeatedly in the past. And this normalization needs to be seen not just in terms of the body, but also with trauma and mental states. Obviously trauma should not be normalized but it has to be separated from the romanticization that it has received. Constantly these topics have been romanticized and somewhat attached to a feminine lens. Once again Alison Bechdel achieves this neutral stance as she depicts herself within Fun Home, dealing with trauma, communicating it to the audience, and being truthful about it. If she were to hide truths from the audience this suspense about the trauma or the events of the story would add secrecy and give these experiences a strange power that she might not intend them to have. Therefore I applaud her honestly as it leaves the reader with little to imagine or fill in the gaps with. Further through the use of color scheme and facial depiction, Bechdel illustrates the true emotions attached to the trauma she experienced. The strictly blue, black, and white colors leave no room for excitement or warmth of any kind. Further, the blank stares throughout the novel leave you with a dull feeling. She does not overhype any aspect of the actions of her father or her mental state. It is truthful and the world needs more of these kinds of novels!
Rose’s analysis of culture, visual art, and the two combined, allows us to think about the boundaries of how we examine and interpret the sensory world around us. I thought it was very interesting how she referred to Berger’s paintings of nude women. Berger considers the audience to have control over what they are viewing, yet Rose also illuminates that Berger’s point of view in creating the painting is equally as important as those who view it. This point of view reminded me of the concept of the “male gaze.” This concept is the idea that women are depicted in the world from a masculine, heterosexual view. This “gaze” gains momentum in that those who view products of the gaze evaluate these depictions as norms and will them further perpetuate these ideas, concepts, images, stereotypes, etc. This endless cycle can be used to look at any kind of stereotype about sex, gender, race, nationality, etc. Although I might be looking at a piece of art from my own perspective, one must remember that through a certain perspective this painting was created and further, the creator’s perspective has been shaped by other perspectives and cultural patterns.
This article reminds me of a research project I did in high school that evaluated an ad from the 1950s. I looked at an Elizabeth Arden makeup ad that very subtly depicted the importance of beauty over knowledge in a college setting. While analyzing the ad, I had to think about the time period, the recent events taking place in America, who designed the ad, who the audience was for the ad, the cultural norms relating to women at the time, the mediums of art of the time, etc. While reading this article, I often thought of this research project and the way in which Rose provides great insight about culture as a more complex definition than we have perceived.
Another really wild thought that Rose brings up is the idea that we are constantly viewing perspectives other than our own and this practice has become a norm. She calls this “simulacrum” and displays how, with time, an object that is being viewed gets more and more unconnected from the “real world.” For example, virtual reality or the simulation of New York in New York. I would question if these kinds of visuals are actually moving away from reality or if the means by which we produce these visuals is getting harder to understand. For example, with this kind of art, it is suddenly harder to pinpoint who created this medium and what the creator intended the audience to see.